Camp Creek Road: Solo Adventure on the KLR…

Plans change.

Uncertainty seems to be the only hard and fast rule of adventure. I had originally planned a short ride on the KLR for Saturday to find some dirt and break in the new tires. Sunday I would meet up with a buddy to do a little exploring and check out some rarely visited ruin sites north of Phoenix. All in all, a solid weekend of outdoor fun. Then the shop called and said I wouldn’t have my bike back before Saturday. Great, there goes my Saturday plans. Then I got a message that my buddy came down with some kind of flu and had to bail on our Sunday excursion. My weekend of adventure was falling flat.

I spent Saturday getting caught up on some things around the house, which was far more practical use of my time but had all the excitement of getting a box of no. 2 pencils for Christmas. By Saturday night I was still trying to decide if I would explore the ruin sites solo, or do something else and wait for my buddy to recover. He’s as much of a history nut as I am and we usually team up to hit new ruin sites, so I finally decided I would wait on those and, instead, head out on the KLR for a substantial ride. Well, substantial to a new rider like me at least.

Seven Springs to the Verde River: FR24 and FR269

If you take Cave Creek Road north out of town and drive until you run out of pavement, that’s Seven Springs Road and Forest Route 24 (also known as Camp Creek Road). The approach brings you up Cave Creek Road through some of the most prestigious luxury golf course communities in Scottsdale like Desert Mountain, Mirabel and Tonto Hills. Shortly after that you’ll reach the turn-off for Bartlett Lake and the Tonto National Forest Ranger Station. Just past the Bartlett turnoff any traffic drops off considerably and you’ll essentially have the road to yourself. At least I did on Sunday.

Riding Seven Springs Road to FR24

Last year I did a backpacking trip into Tonto National Forest toward Skunk Tank north of Cave Creek. We backpacked in from Seven Springs, spending a night in the desert along the creek and then packing out. That was the last, and only time I had driven up Seven Springs Road. There is a short unpaved portion of the road before reaching the trailhead, but I really hadn’t made it out to the true dirt roads of FR24. Other than a little map research and a vague general knowledge of the area, I had no idea what kind of conditions I would find or whether I would be able to handle them when I got there.

Being new to this bike, I don’t yet have a lot of confidence in my skills. As I mentioned in the last post, I hadn’t really been on a motorcycle for 6 or 7 years before buying the KLR and I never really drove much dirt. This whole Dual-Sport Adventure Motorcycle business is entirely a new thing to me. I headed out anyway, determined to gain some experience on dirt roads.

Sears-Kay Ruin

Just past the turn-off for Bartlett Lake is a small Hohokam village ruin site known as Sears-Kay. It is one of many sites dotted along the Verde River and it’s tributaries like a long chain linked by one of the only continuous water sources in the state. The sign on site says that Sears-Kay is nearly 1000 years old, but other sources argue it was first occupied as late as 1500 AD. The hilltop site was discovered in 1867 by soldiers from nearby Camp McDowell and later named after J.M. Sears who founded a ranch nearby in 1887 called Sears-Kay Ranch.

Sears-Kay Ruin

Early on this particular Sunday morning I pulled into the parking lot for Sears-Kay and found it completely empty. I parked near the trailhead and turned off the bike only to be engulfed in complete silence. After stashing my gear and grabbing my camera I casually headed up the trail enjoying the peace of a morning alone in the desert. I made short work of the easy 1 mile trail and took my time walking among the partially reconstructed dry-stack stone walls. Some recent summer storms had brought moisture to the desert and the site was ripe with smatterings of color from seasonal wildflowers.

Camp Creek Road (FR24)

I didn’t stay at Sears-Kay long. I was anxious to get into the backcountry and a little worried about letting it get too late, too hot and too crowded. I drove the rest of the way up Seven Springs Road switched between pavement and dirt as it twisted it’s way back into the canyons. Eventually the pavement, and the people, completely faded away and I had the desert to myself.

One of the things I’ve always loved about hiking in Arizona is getting back into the untouched desert environments. The KLR offers a similar experience but allows me to see much more of the desert in a shorter time and get much further back into remote areas I wouldn’t get to otherwise. Ultimately, I’ll start combining hiking trips with motorcycle trips for a deeper look at Arizona backcountry.

As I rode down FR24 I kept a pretty moderate pace, still a little tentative about riding on unstable surfaces, which allowed me too look around a bit and enjoy the scenery. I stopped often to take pictures, explore a little side trail, or just turn off the bike and enjoy the amazing views in silence.

KLR on FR24

FR24 is a pretty well maintained road and was perfect for feeling out the bike. The hardpacked dirt was decent and not overly rutted out from storms, no muddy pits, no loose sand. It was a fun, easy, twisty bit of fun that I was really starting to enjoy. I expected FR24 to be more active on a Sunday morning with other traffic but I did not see another vehicle the entire time I was on this road. The solitude was an unexpected bonus and, at the same time, a little spooky in case of something going wrong.

KLR on FR269 with saguaros

FR24 (Camp Creek Road) ends at a T junction with FR269 (Bloody Basin Road). At the wide intersection there is a sign post showing the mileage along Bloody Basin Road to I-17 going west and to the Verde River going east. There is also sign at this intersection that talks about the Great Western Trail, a 3000 mile backroad route from Mexico to Canada. Apparently, the Arizona section of this trail uses Camp Creek and Bloody Basin to work it’s way north. I had the choice here to turn back, but I was making a day of this and it was still early. Besides, I really wanted to get out to the Sheep Bridge and put my feet in the Verde River.

FR269 is a pretty nice road as well, until the first creek crossing. Tangle Creek is the first big creek crossing and the first place I saw other people all day. A guy in a big 4×4 bronco was stuck in the soft sand of the creek and an older gentleman in another truck was working to help him get free. They had most of the creek blocked but as I approached they waved me through and darted around them praying that I wouldn’t bite it on my first creek crossing…especially with an audience. Coming up on the wide creek I could see tons of loose sand, river rock and mud and I really didn’t know what the bike would do or how I would handle it. JUST DON”T FALL.

I gunned it through the creek, goosing the throttle a little so I could maintain some speed and the KLR cut a path through the sand and over the rock without a hitch. YES! After Tangle Creek the road progressively got worse. There were two or three other creek crossing with the same loose, wet sand and every time I crossed one the road on the other side deteriorated a little. I eventually got used it, even started to enjoy the feel of the bike hoping around and finding traction on the rocky surface. It felt good to dial in and get a real feel for how the bike handles on terrain.

View of the Sheep Bridge at the Verde River

Verde River Sheep Bridge

I finally rounded a corner and caught my first look at the Verde River and the Sheep Bridge in the valley below. The structure is pretty cool and as I approached I found it interesting how natural the setting felt. This man-made structure in the middle of the desert at the end of a long dirt road didn’t seem out of place at all, it made sense. As I cruised down the switchbacks toward the bridge I passed a small corral and the old concrete slabs of structures that once stood near the bridge. I rode up to the bridge itself, designed as a footbridge, and for a split second debated if the structure would really hold me and the bike. But there were tire tracks and the new bridge looked solid enough. The Sheep Bridge is a 476 foot suspension bridge originally built in 1943 then rebuilt in 1989. Remnants of the old bridge foundation are still there next to the new bridge.

On the KLR after crossing the Sheep Bridge

KLR at the Sheep Bridge

Our summer storms have been pretty active this year, making for some interesting developments in the creeks, washes and rivers around here and the Verde is no exception. It was obvious the water had come down after a recent swell had saturated the banks and flooded the riparian plants that line the river’s normal shoreline. The muddy brown water was flowing pretty good around the tight corner just upstream of the bridge, slowing where the river widened then picking up steam again as the river narrowed downstream. The Verde is normally a very pretty deep green but this turbulent muddy mess was a sign of recent weather upstream.

I hiked down the little rock trail from the bridge to the gravel bar along the river. There was no one else around and I had the place to myself, at least for a while. The shoreline was a muddy, sticky mess and it looked like a couple of people had attempted to trudge through it before me. I chose to hike a little further down stream for something a little more stable. I found a spot where I could approach the river without sinking to my calves in muddy clay and dipped my head in the water to cool off.

I sat listening to the river for a while. My time rafting in the Pacific Northwest has given me a keen appreciation of rivers and their unique character. I love the sound of moving water and find it to be the closest thing to meditation I have experienced. I eventually pulled myself away from the river, suddenly very aware of my water supply and the increasing heat.

I passed two trucks on their way to the river as I rode back. Having left when I did, I kept my experience at the river unspoiled and was thankful for the timing. I noticed much more confidence on my return, riding a little faster, taking corners just a little harder, worrying less as I approached the sandy washes. Once I hit the graded road on the other side of Tangle Creek I opened her up a little bit and cruised down the gravel road at a pretty good pace. Other than the two trucks near the river, I saw no one else on the road back. A few people had made it in and stopped at one of the many open camp sites along the road, but that still left me with the road to myself.

Riding KLR on FR24

What did I learn?

Getting back home I started going through the pictures from the ride. I really enjoyed my Sunday morning adventure on the KLR and I am anxious to get back out there. There are a few things I learned on this ride that will allow me to be better prepared next time I go out.

For one, I didn’t take nearly enough water. That’ll be remedied next time I head out. I had underestimated how long I would be out there, and I underestimated how dehydrated I would get sweating in my riding jacket and helmet. Dehydration could have been a big problem and I was feeling it’s effects as I wrapped up the ride. I had some emergency gear in case it became an issue but bringing more water is easy enough.

Second, I was very under-prepared for a problem. I guess I expected to see a lot more people on these backroads and figured extraction would be easy. I need to bring some basic gear that would make upwards of 72 hours of survival easier to manage. It will likely never be an issue, but it will give me peace of mind to be prepared.

Navigation was poor. Knowing the route I wanted to take, it wasn’t a big deal but when I get more confident on the bike I want to be able to explore more of the side roads, trails and washes. Better maps, GPS and a compass really should be part of my regular gear. Really, I need to treat these outings more like I would extended hiking trips and less like road trips.

Food! I foolishly headed out without breakfast and didn’t bring a damn thing to eat with me. That was downright stupid and won’t happen again.

Thoughts for the next adventure…

Studying the area a little more now that I’ve been out there, I want to explore some of the other roads. Mount Humbolt, Maggie May Trail, Table Mesa Trail, New River and Bloody Basin are all now on the list. I want to look further into the Great Western Trail and how far north that will allow me to ride. I also learned that there are natural hot springs at the Verde River near the Sheep Bridge…reason enough to go back in Winter and make camp. The other direction on Bloody Basin Road is the Agua Fria  National Monument, a 71,000 acres protected area created in 2000. There are supposed to be upwards of 400 archaeological sites within the Monument, some as much as 2,000 years old.

However, I think the next adventure will be in a different area. I have really been interested in exploring Castle Hot Springs Road near Lake Pleasant. Not a technical ride, but there are a lot of side trails and backroads of varying difficulty. I just may have to check it out.

Adventure Takes a New Direction…

Standing quietly under the broad, green canopy of a twisted old mesquite tree with my camera in my hands I watched a dozen wild horses graze quietly on tufts of green grass while the early morning light streamed through the dust stirred up around them. I thought to myself, “If only I had brought the gear to make coffee, this would be a perfect morning.”

Wild Horses at Butcher Jones Recreation AreaI recently made the decision to buy a motorcycle. The desire to ride has always kind of been there but I just didn’t have a direction. Several years ago when I started attending the Overland Expo in northern Arizona I was drawn to the “Adventure Motorcycles” and the awesome stories from riders who had seen a good portion of the world’s gritty underbelly from the seat of their trusty bikes. The little Film Festival at Overland Expo was full of presentations, documentaries and dreamy films of adventure on two wheels…

..and they were winning me over.

I think my buddy, J Brandon, could smell the desperation to ride on me (after multiple days of camping I’m sure that’s not all he could smell). The final straw for me was sitting in the Overland Expo theater watching a presentation by Phil Freeman of MotoQuest. He spent most of the presentation talking about opportunities to ride in Alaska and see some of the most amazing country North America has to offer. Then he started talking about some of the other places they ride like Mexico, Iceland, Tierra Del Fuego and India and that was it, I wanted to ride…I wanted to be able to do those trips.

At that time, J extended an open invitation to come ride with him in the Sierra foothills next time I was in the Reno/Tahoe area. So when my wife and I made plans to head up to Tahoe in July for her birthday I decided to take J up on his offer and get myself on a motorcycle for the first time in probably 6 or 7 years. That first ride took a little work to knock the rust off what meager riding skills I ever possessed, and a decent helping of patience from J. But once we got out on the road I started to feel more comfortable. I also started to feel a lot more desperate to have my own motorcycle.

Last Week I bought a bike. It took some searching and a fair amount of advice, pointers and general help from J to nail down what I was looking for and what would be an acceptable price. I eventually found a guy selling a really clean 2000 Kawasaki KLR650 and got him to settle on a price I was comfortable with. Now I am working to outfit the bike for adventure travel while I look for opportunities to ride locally without undue suffering in the heat.

Why I chose a KLR-

The Kawasaki KLR650 is often referred to as the “Jeep” of dual sport motorcycles. It’s damn near impossible to destroy, can go anywhere and is fairly inexpensive to buy, maintain and repair. Kawasaki didn’t change the bike for 30 years so the aftermarket parts and accessories are literally everywhere. It doesn’t do any one thing exceptionally well, but it does all things pretty well making it nearly the most versatile motorcycle available. Their attraction for adventure riders is the same attraction that 4×4 guys have with jeeps and gun owners have with AK-47s…they work, in a lot of adverse conditions, with little support and if they break it’s pretty easy to get them going again.

To me, it’s a good choice for a bike that needs to be able to go everywhere I want to go without too much fuss. And it will look bad ass bouncing down a dirt road with a couple of fat panniers, a duffel bag and a case of beer strapped to it while I chase down fish tacos in Baja.

Bush Highway on the KLR

I have been trying to get some bike time all week and put some miles on the bike to build my comfort level and feel out the new ride. Meetings had been getting in the way all week, but today I got up at sunrise and blocked out some time to hit the road while the temps were cool. When I set out this morning the sun was just cresting over Four Peaks to the east, shooting rays of orange light through the haze that was already forming over the dusty farm land on the reservation at the edge of town. I cruised through the farmland and headed out on the Beeline Highway.

While pouring over some maps, I had found a little road leading to a small recreation area on the north side of Saguaro Lake that I didn’t even know existed. I was curious to see what kind of lake access was back there and, even more, I wanted to scout a new hiking trail and possible dirt roads for the KLR. I turned off the Beeline at the Bush Highway and after a few miles took the turn onto Butcher Jones Drive. I could feel the air cooling as I descended into the canyon toward the lake and when I pulled up to the Butcher Jones Recreation site I was pretty impressed.

DCIM101GOPRO

The beach wasn’t much to look at but the whole site looked pretty well cared for with clean bathroom, nice picnic tables and a really nice grassy area surrounded by old mesquites. It was still pretty early and there was only one other vehicle there belonging to a couple of older fishermen who had set up shop a little ways down the shore. I stripped off the riding jacket and helmet and walked around for a bit enjoying the rare coolness of the air, unheard of in August. With only a few boats out on the lake and the only other visitors a couple of quiet old gents, the lake lay still and glassy soaking up the early morning sun.

Jones Canyon Cliffs

Part of the reason I chose this route was to scout a new trail and see if it would be something I would want to explore when my niece and nephew get into town later this month. The Butcher Jones Trail is listed as an easy trail and only about 5 miles round trip, which is perfect for a couple of younger kids. I found the trailhead and started hiking to get some trail time in before the sun got too overbearing. The trail starts off paved, and follows a metal guardrail that curves along the lake shore for a while seemingly for fishing access. The trail is in shade throughout the morning thanks to the tree canopy overhead and the tall ridge it skirts.

KLR Saguaro Lake-6

Then you pass through a boundary into the wilderness and the trail becomes a proper trail. Still fairly easy though narrow and with some minor exposure. The trail doesn’t seem to be traveled much and is overgrown in many places with much of the trail winding through thick unmaintained mesquite groves. Much of the trail is rocky and the wildlife seems to be active. I didn’t see any snakes, though I was on the lookout and expected to. It looks like a pretty cool trail overall and I can’t wait to bring the kids out to explore the rest of it.

KLR Saguaro Lake-11

When I returned from my quick scouting expedition I was greeted by an amazing and fairly rare sight. From where I stood coming off the trail it almost appeared as though fog had settled into the grassy area under the mesquite grove and rays of light streaked through the canopy of the trees illuminating a dozen wild horses in ethereal light. I slowly moved in closer and watched as the group grazed lazily in the grass, played with each other and rolled blissfully in the dirt kicking up dust. This was about the time I lamented my lack of coffee and wished I could stay and watch the horses all morning. It was a perfect Arizona morning experience and I wanted to stretch it out as long as I could.

Wild Horses at Saguaro lake

A few more people arrived and as the “tourists” rolled in talking a little too loud, getting a little too close and gawking a little too much…they ruined the moment. I grabbed my gear and stowed my camera then hopped on the KLR and headed out, slowly and quietly as I could so as to not unnecessarily disturb the horses. A few looked up and watched as I rode by on my way out. I continued down the Bush Highway toward Mesa to complete the loop home. I stopped a couple more times to take a pictures and catch the last of the morning light.

KLR Saguaro LakeI think I will do this ride again. Maybe every week as I get used to the bike and continue to work on my riding skills. Maybe next time I’ll remember to bring some coffee.

 

 

Finding diversity in Hawaii…

The trip was doomed before it even began.  My wife and I (mostly my wife) had been planning our first anniversary trip to Hawaii with focus on spending time in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.  We poured over places to stay and tried to compile a list of things to do inside the National Park as well as outside the park.  We settled on a promising little cottage just outside the park in the village of Volcano where we would be close enough to the park entrance that we could easily get in early and have no trouble staying late (so I could get my sunrise and sunset opportunities).  But things began to unravel early…

Two weeks before our departure from the mainland my knee decided to fail me.  I had been training again trying to get in shape from my foot being broken nearly all Summer.  Miserable as that was, I was excited to be out again and getting in shape in time for some Winter fun and our anniversary trip.  My knee thought otherwise and I was reduced (once again) to painfully hobbling around the house with limited mobility.  Awesome…Hawaii here we come!

Also looming on the horizon was the giant black cloud of the government shutdown.  In my mind, it would be a game of chicken until the 11th hour and then someone would give in and the crisis would be averted.  Never did I expect it to actually happen and, even if it did, I didn’t expect the National Parks to shut down.  I guess that’s the naturalist in me that considers the National Parks and Monuments part of the “essential” services that would be untouchable during a shutdown.  I also, naively, thought of the National Parks as truly public spaces that would still be accessible even if the Park’s services were closed.  But clearly I was mistaken…

Honolulu and the North Shore

North Shore of Oahu

Honolulu, Oahu Hawaii

We arrived in Honolulu for the first leg of our trip.  We would be staying one evening here before moving on to the Big Island so that I would get to see the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor.  My wife has been, but since this was my first trip to the islands we made time to make sure I would be able to see the Memorial.

The long flight had been hard on my miserable knee so we reluctantly chose to push Pearl Harbor off to the next morning and explore the North Shore a little bit and maybe catch the sunset.  We fought our way through afternoon traffic to get outside Honolulu and head toward the beaches.  Still pretty sore and stiff from the long flight, I had a hard time getting around but luckily the road pretty much follows the shoreline and there wasn’t much hiking to get to the beaches along the North Shore.

Turtle Beach on OahuWe stopped at a few places, got to see some turtles, had a little snack and waited out the sun as it slowly settled to the horizon.  We stopped at Sunset Beach and while my wife got out the beach towel to lay in the sand and soak up the last hour or so of sunlight, I hauled out the camera gear and set up to catch the fading light.  The weather was nice, there was a slight breeze and a nice set of clouds in the west for the sun to play with as it set.  The sunset wasn’t spectacular but it was pretty nice and it allowed me to get the equipment dialed in.

After sunset we headed back to Honolulu for a nice sushi dinner and some much needed rest.  My knee kept me from getting much rest, but we were excited to get out to the National Memorial before our flight to Hawaii.  My wife turned on the news as we were getting ready and that’s when we found out about the closure of the National Parks.  Blindsided and somewhat devastated that we were going to be denied access to the only reason we stayed in Honolulu AND potentially miss out on the main reason we were visiting Hawaii we scrambled for some answers.  I called the number listed for the Pearl Harbor Visitor’s Center and spoke with a woman who assured me that the memorial, or at least most of it, was still open.

She was partially right, the collection of memorials and monuments at Pearl Harbor are managed by the NPS but some of them, like the Pacific Aviation Museum are actually on the military base property and were therefore still open.  DOD funding was intact, so the USS Missouri and the museum were still open but access was now cut off so they were shuttling visitors onto the military base to access these memorials.  It was a mess and no one really knew what was going on.  We spoke with some very helpful NPS Rangers stationed in front of the visitor’s center, but their news was grim.  This would not be a quick resolution, the parks would likely be closed for a while.

We reluctantly gave in and headed to the airport.  After a pretty rough flight (my knee was really having a fit with all this travel) we landed in Hilo, grabbed our car and headed to Volcano to check in to our cottage.  We rented a private cottage from Hale Ohai cottages in Volcano.  Our place was awesome and set back in the thick jungle vegetation making for a beautiful setting.  Unfortunately, we wouldn’t get a chance to spend much time there.

As most everyone knows now, the National Parks stayed closed for over two weeks which meant that our 5 day adventure in Volcanoes NP was spent outside of Volcanoes NP.  Every morning we woke up hoping that the shutdown was over the park would be reopened.  It was sort of our obsession throughout the trip.  The upside of being locked out of the National Park was that we got to see much more of the rest of the island than we had originally planned.

There is so much to see on the Big Island.  Even being limited by my meager mobility we still got to see a ton of diversity in Hawaii as we ventured out from our home base in Volcano.  Exploring the gardens and waterfalls around Hilo, the rough and rugged coastlines around the southern tip of the island, the high grasslands between Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea and various beaches.  Ultimately we had a great time driving around the island exploring State Parks, beaches and old lava flows.  We had some great meals in Kona and Waimea and found some amazing little roadside mom-and-pop restaurants.  Parks closed or not, we still had a great time exploring the diversity in Hawaii and spending time with each other on our anniversary.

Cape Kumukahi

Cape Kumukahi near Hilo

Cape Kumukahi is just outside Hilo near Puna and was a rough and tortured coastline of old lava flows broken and twisted by the relentless action of the waves.  Throughout our trip, this area was usually cloudy and raining but we happened to catch it one morning when the sun was out and the clouds were still gathering in the distance.  It’s beauty is in it’s hostility, the sharp black lava rock with very little vegetation and the hard crash of the waves on this side of the island.

Rainbow Falls

Rainbow Falls near Hilo

Just minutes outside of Hilo is Ranbow Falls, one of the most visited falls on the island from what I’ve read.  It’s really easy to access and there are paved walks to view points to see the falls.  Many tour buses drop off loads of cruise ship tourists to come in and snap some pictures and gawk at the dramatic falls and lush vegetation.  It is no doubt a beautiful spot, and the falls is much larger and more dramatic during other seasons but I would have liked to visit more remote falls had I been more ambulatory.

Lava Tree Gardens State Park

Lava Tree Gardens outside Hilo

Lava Tree State Park is also near Puna and hosts a unique feature on the island.  Vertical lava tubes dot the park.  These unique features were created when molten lava washed through the area in the 1790s and cooled faster around the large trees as it washed over the land.  The trees burnt out leaving hollow vertical tubes that still stand today.

Punalu’u Black Sand Beach

Black lava shores of Punalu'u beach

Past the south end of the National Park is Punalu’u Black Sand Beach County Park.  It’s a small protected black sand beach area with some cool lava formations and a small section of black sand beach where we saw another turtle on the shoreline.  We actually visited this spot a couple of times during our trip because it was close enough to Volcano to be an easy drive.

Southern Tip of Hawaii

Southernmost tip of the US

The southernmost tip of the Big Island is also the southernmost tip of the United States and is a pretty harsh area.  The seas are calmer here but the currents are still strong.  If you can brave the undertow, there is supposed to be some excellent snorkeling at the base of the shear cliffs.  There was a lot of long-line fishing going on here when we stopped by.  The rugged, windswept cliffs and the expanse of endless ocean beyond really do make this spot feel like the “edge of the world”.

Grasslands outside Waimea

Grassy hills outside Waimea - diversity in Hawaii

Totally unexpected to me were the rolling hills and open grasslands dotted with cattle.  I never expected to see expansive wild grasslands in Hawaii and I found myself staring out at it every time we drove through these areas.  It was different than anything I expected to find on a Pacific Island I was slightly in awe of it.  We stopped one evening on our way from Kona to Waimea as the sun was setting to grab some pictures at the edge of the highway and these ended up being some of my favorite pictures from the trip.

As disappointed as we were to NOT make our trip about the National Park in Hawaii, we still made the best of it and had a great time checking out all that Hawaii had to offer.  As I said to my wife several times throughout the trip, there’s no way to see it all in a week.  We could spend years out here and never get to see it all.

We are already talking about getting back to Hawaii soon to handle some unfinished business.  Keep those parks open, Hawaii, and we’ll be back soon!

The #OmniTen effect…

Columbia OmniTEN

I’ve followed the Columbia #Omniten from the beginning.

I remember reading blog posts from original #Omniten about their trip together, how it changed them…brought them all closer together.  It was the kind of trip that inspired life long friendships.  The unique experience of that trip changed the careers, lives and relationships of those who were there.

I wondered if our group would develop that bond.  I wondered if I would be changed by the experience.  I wondered if the first #Omniten was unique.

I’m not the type of person who makes friends easily.  As an introvert, I will tell jokes and make superficial conversation to avoid making true connections with people.  Usually.  The outdoor community is different, the people are different.  Meeting people from the outdoor community face to face for the first time is a lot like visiting old friends you haven’t seen in a while.  Easy, comfortable, comforting, exciting, fun and mixed with a lot of laughter.  Meeting my #Omniten family for the first time was like this.

I will write more in the next couple of weeks about the trip and share some photos.  This was “the adventure of a lifetime”, as Eric put it.  For me personally it was a homecoming, it was emotional.  I’ve always dreamed of being able to take a group of good friends on a whitewater trip and show them why I love the river so much.  Even if I wasn’t the one guiding the trip, this really felt like the trip I’ve dreamed of.  I give credit to Columbia for putting together a stellar group of people and not just the #Omniten.  The people from Columbia that joined our adventure were all truly great people and added tremendously to the enjoyment of the trip.

Columbia OmniTEN

I haven’t floated the swirling currents of the river in over 5 years.  It felt good to drift along in the fickle current, to ride the eddie lines, to slide down the broad green tongue at the top of a rapid and bounce along the frothing, white-capped wave train.  I’d almost forgotten how much I love the sounds of the river – the trickling of waterfalls, the roaring of whitewater, the creak of the oarlocks and soft dip of the oar blades into the quiet, flat water.

I miss the river already, but I just might miss my new friends a little bit more.  I now know first-hand how the other group felt when they had to say goodbye at the end of their trip.  It’s bitter-sweet and filled with adventurous opportunity.

I hope to see you all again soon!

Bored Hipster Seeks…Adventure!

It’s interesting the conversations you overhear, out of context, that resonate with you.  It happened for me at camp this weekend in Grand Canyon at the Desert View Campground.

Desert View is a first-come-first-served no-reservations campground on the extreme eastern end of the park.  It sees a lot of last-minute campers that couldn’t make reservations at the main campground near Grand Canyon Village, so it’s quite the motley crew when it fills up.  We had everything from drunk Canadian party boys to German families to nomadic guitar playing hippies.  We also had a small herd of urban hipsters who were seemingly lost, because they sure didn’t seem to be happy about this whole “camping” thing.

One morning two of the hipsters had broken from the purposefully-uninterested, apathetic  herd and were conversing in the typical condescending fashion.  Clearly, one of the two was not satisfied with sitting around camp practicing cool indifference and honing his snarky, sarcastic wit.  He struggled to explain his ambitions to his friend.

“I don’t know, man…it’s just not what I want to do.”

“Well, what is it then?”

“I…I want to…to go for a walk…go somewhere.  You know…meet random people, see random things.  Maybe do something slightly unsafe…”

I have never heard anyone struggle so much to explain their need for ADVENTURE.  In his struggle to verbalize his inexplicable desire to do something exciting he inadvertently delivered what I believe is the best definition of “Adventure” I’ve ever heard.  I really hope this guy got the adventure he was after, but sadly his tribe probably snarked him into submission.

But his plea for adventure got me thinking about my own trip.  How did our little trip to the Grand Canyon measure up to these requirements?  Would he have approved of our own little adventure?

…Go for a walk…go somewhere…

Broken foot or not, we did hike.  It wasn’t far and it wasn’t difficult, but we hiked.  Even with a full campground and a tourist packed National Park we found and hiked trails that had few, if any, other people on them.  We found places along the South Rim with epic views and quiet solitude.

Wilderness Boot - Adventure

…Meet random people…

Most notably, we made the acquaintance of local photographer, and ex-Grateful-Dead-chasing-hippie Jeff Franklin.  As we sat at Shoshone Point waiting for sunset, Jeff made his way out to the point and chatted us up for the next couple hours.  He was an interesting guy with a lot of stories to tell.  He lives in the area and his wife works for Grand Canyon Village so he spends his time biking and hiking the area exploring and taking pictures.  We talked about The Park, conservation, history, nature, and he offered some tips and insight for exploring some of the more remote regions of the Canyon.

Random Encounters - Adventure

…See random things…

Among seeing tourists dangling from the edges of the canyon, posing with dangerous wildlife and wearing some of the most inappropriate and outrageous clothing you’d expect to see at a National Park…I’d say it got pretty random.  But nothing takes the cake for randomness like Bedrock City.  It’s the one place where if I were to show you the pictures, out of context and without the story, most people would react with a big fat WTF!  In the 1970s when The Flinstones was still a very popular cartoon and Hanna-Barbara was the king of Saturday mornings this place made perfect sense.  Now though, it qualifies as a VERY random roadside oddity.

Random Things - Adventure

…Do something slightly unsafe…

Admittedly, this is my favorite part of any adventure.  This one is pretty subjective because what I consider “unsafe” and what others consider “unsafe” can vary by a wide margin.  With my busted foot, I wasn’t in a position to push the boundaries too much.  But I imagine our hipster buddy would potentially break into a cold sweat and get wobbly in the knees standing too close to the 400+ foot drop offs at some of the Canyon edges.  We saw plenty of tourists who’s own fear of heights kept them well behind the guardrails.

Desert View Hike - Adventure

I guess, all in all, when I look back on the trip through the thick-rimmed retro glasses of Mr. Skinny Jeans I think we satisfied his criteria for fun and adventure.  Standards differ and there are varying levels of adventure, but the basics are all here…go somewhere new, see random stuff, meet random people and do something that scares you…even if just a little bit.

If you have a story about seeing random stuff, meeting random people or doing something that scares you…share it with me in the comments!  I love those kinds of stories!

Desert View Hike - Adventure

Birthday in Bedrock…

There’s a lot to write about after all that we’ve stuffed into the last 4 days…but it all starts in in the stone age.

It was my wife’s birthday this week (we won’t talk about how old she is) and since I wasn’t going to be on the John Muir Trail we wanted to take a trip together.  We settled on a short camping trip to the Grand Canyon and got all of the necessary things in order so we could head out mid-week.

There were a lot of big things in play this week that made the trip exciting.  First it was Merelyn’s birthday and this was all about her having fun.  Second, it was a test of my busted foot to see if I could handle a little easy hiking so I could start getting out again.  Third, I have really been after shooting at the Grand Canyon since getting back into photography last year and this would be a great chance to catch Summer storms in the canyon.  Last but not least, we rented a teardrop trailer for this trip to see if it was something we might consider purchasing in the future.  I’ll get into most of that stuff in separate posts, but this post is about Merelyn’s birthday in Bedrock.

Bedrock Birthday-Bedrock

If you haven’t cruised up 64 just outside of Williams, Arizona towards the Grand Canyon then you’ve probably never heard of this gem of Americana.  Bedrock City was built in 1972 as an homage to the 1960′s Flinstones Cartoon.  It originally had live actors, a stage show and a variety of interactive displays but these days feels more like some surreal amusement park ghost town.  But that’s what makes it awesome!

Bedrock Birthday-Bedrock

We had a late start getting on the road and I told Merelyn she got to pick our campsite for the night since we weren’t going to make it to our ultimate camp destination in the National Park until the next day.  She did a quick look on Yelp and saw Bedrock City and we just had to check it out.  I mean seriously, what good is a vacation if you can’t make a spontaneous, impromptu stop at a defunct amusement park based on a beloved childhood cartoon?  Isn’t that what adventure is all about?

Bedrock Birthday-Bedrock

This place lived up to every possible expectation we could have had.  It was fun, scary, strange, amusing, exciting, creepy, playful, nostalgic and bizarre all at the same time and we loved it.  I limped and hobbled along in The Boot trying to keep up with Merelyn as she explored every building and posed with every display.  The place is deceivingly huge with buildings everywhere including Fred and Barney’s houses, a general store, post office, movie theater that actually plays the old cartoons, a police station, hospital, school and various other assorted buildings including a huge brontosaurus slide.

Bedrock Birthday-Bedrock

It was her birthday and she got to choose the type of adventure we would have and from her ear-to-ear grin I don’t think she was disappointed.  We started our day in Bedrock and ended it at camp in the Grand Canyon.  The next few days were a perfect balance of excitement, exploration and relaxation…perfect vacation if you ask me.

Bedrock Birthday-Bedrock

Waiting in Nazca…

The ancient plastic chair groaned in protest as my dad plopped down next to me disturbing the thin layer of dust that seemed to settle on everything in town.  I was reclining in my own relic of a chair with my feet propped up on my dusty, overloaded backpack settling in for what we knew would be a long wait.  The sun was already getting low in the sky, stretching long shadows across the dirt lot beside the run-down metal and brick building that passed for a bus station in these parts.  The buses that traverse the Pan American Highway through South America were notorious for running on no schedule whatsoever.  Our intrepid bus was already an hour late and not a living soul could tell us when it might make an appearance, “Es coming….no problem.”  We didn’t care, it was all part of the adventure.

It was toward the end of our first week of a month long trip through southern Peru.  My dad and I had spent the last couple of days in the despairingly dry deserts around Nazca.  We’d made a friend the first day in town who served as our guide and chauffeur, happily driving us around town in his faded blue American-made muscle car that belched thick black smoke with every throaty rev of it’s powerful engine.  Like most people we met in Peru, he seemed genuinely happy to show us around “his” town and share his local knowledge.

Dad in the Deserts outside Nazca Peru

After a simple breakfast near the hostel our new friend had taken us out to the local air field where we took a small, private plane on a flight tour over the Nazca Lines.  Afterward, he offered to drive us out to one of the few hills that offered an elevated view of the lines from the ground.  Our driver patiently waited for us and even offered to climb up the hill and take our picture, the whole time telling us stories about the area.  When we cruised back in to town we grabbed a bite to eat and made our way to the bus station to check in and wait for our ride.  We’d had a long day and Dad and I were every bit as dusty and tired as the rest of this old desert town.

Dad and I near the Nazca Lines

A common thread in our travels through South America were locals enthusiastic about helping us with our Spanish.  My language skills were decent but my dad struggled with sentence structure and pronunciation to the great amusement of our hosts.  But no matter where we were, they would greet our halting, butchered attempts at conversation with a friendly smile and patience.  Settling in at the bus station was no different and as more people filtered in to wait for their ride we soon found ourselves attempting a clunky conversation in broken Spanish with a friendly local.

I had been studying Spanish in preparation for our trip, but this early in country I was still fumbling with the language.  Still, I was doing better than Dad, so as the conversation played out I tried to translate for him as best as I could.  Our guy was a local worker who commuted back and forth from the mountains to the lowlands.  He asked us the usual questions about where we were from and how we were related.  But soon I was in over my head and with the conversation in danger of a slow death a woman who was sitting nearby started to help translate.  It turned out she was a Canadian who had been in South America for the last two years teaching English on her way to the southern tip of Chile.  Soon, she had moved in to our circle and joined the conversation as we all introduced ourselves and told our stories.

With the Canadian helping the flow of conversation we learned that our Spanish speaking local was there with a friend, a local Quechua who only spoke his native language.  Not wanting to be left out from what was quickly turning into a very entertaining event, he joined the conversation telling jokes and laughing with us as his buddy translated for him.  It was now dark and the weak, flickering florescent lights cast their unnatural glow on us from overhead.  Our Quechua friend introduced a 2 liter bottle of Coca-Cola and took a big swig, topping it off with Rum before passing it around.  With every pass of the 2-liter we would drain a portion of the bottle and when it made it back to our Quechua friend he would top it off with Rum.

Street scene in Nazca Peru

Our laughter grew louder and our stories more animated as we became more comfortable with the conversation being translated from English to Spanish to Quechua and back again.  The Rum flowed as we all shared jokes and stories and laughed as if we were old friends.  The bus was over four hours late arriving at the bus station that night but we didn’t mind.  We shook hands and slapped each other on the back in farewell as we boarded and soon we were sleeping as the big bus rumbled it’s way through the night down the dark highway.

Many months later,  my dad and I were rehashing details about the trip when I realized that our last day in Nazca had been his birthday.  I suddenly felt guilty for letting it slip my mind and not wishing him a happy birthday, getting him a gift or doing something special.  As I apologized to him he began laughing at me, his big hearty laugh that was always so contagious and said, “Don’t be sorry, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.  That night at the bus stop in Nazca was the best birthday I’ve ever had.”

A couple of years before he died, my dad told me how grateful he was that I had invited him to go to Peru with me, and many other adventures after that.  It meant a lot to him that I would want to share those trips with “my dad”.  I had to explain to him that it never really was about sharing the trip with “my dad”, it was more about inviting the best partner I could think of in any adventure.  I just happened to luck out that the best guy for the job happened to be my father.  I hope he understood how amazingly grateful I was that he made the time to travel with me.

He is missed, and every new adventure reminds me of him.  It’s not very often you can find someone who greets challenge and adversity with a hearty laugh and a smile and is game to try anything at least once.

Happy Father’s Day…

Dad in Peru overlooking the valley

Getting ready for Overland Expo 2013…

Early Friday morning I get to head up north to a bustling little campground just outside of Flagstaff where a huge community is gathering.  The Overland Expo is in it’s 8th year and celebrates people who explore the world.  I attended the Expo last year for the first time and was overwhelmed with the amazing vehicles, interesting stories from seasoned travelers and the closeness of the community.  Even though most of the people attending travel alone (or as a couple) they tend to embrace other Overlanders as kindred spirits.

Overlanding Rig from Overland Expo 2012

I won’t be able to get up there until Friday morning, but I can’t wait to see who is there this year.  I’m looking forward to seeing friends from last year like @OverlandNomads, @AmericanSahara and @ExplorElements as well meeting some new people.  I am also looking forward to seeing some of my favorite vendors like @TADgear and @OverlandGourmet.

I’ve been looking to get my camping/overlanding rig outfitted with better gear.  So I will be looking for some specific (awesome) gear from Goal Zero Solar, Canyon Coolers and pretty much anyone showing travel trailers.  And I’ll be sure to take lots of pictures!

 

What is Overlanding?

from the Overland Expo website:

“Overlanding is a way to describe exploring by your own means, usually either by vehicle (often with four-wheel-drive capability) or adventure motorcycle. It’s long been a traditional way to describe safaris in Africa or exploring in Australia. Brits head “overland” to Africa and Asia and across the Continent.

We use the term to differentiate the activity from other four-wheel-drive activities such as rock-crawling or rallying. For overlanders, the journey is as important as the destination or the activities that we do when we get to our destination (if there even is a specific destination): hiking, nature watching, kayaking, mountain biking, and so on.

For overlanders, the camping is really a highlight as well ~ we enjoy innovations like roof-top tents, 12V fridges, and high-quality awnings, ground tents, kitchen kits, and equipment such as compressors and winches and other recovery gear.”

What is the Overland Expo?

“Overland Expo is designed as a unique event to introduce consumers to all the innovative equipment for camping and vehicles, and to introduce travel enthusiasts to the pleasures of exploring the world via your own means, whether it’s an old van or a new Land Cruiser or Sportsmobile or BMW motorcycle.

Through social events and 85+ programs and classes and over 140 exhibitors, Overland Expo is the largest and most unique event combining adventure travel, vehicles, and motorcycles with education & commerce.

It’s the place to come to get outfitted; get trained; get inspired . . . and get going.”

Columbia’s #Omniten 2013…

#OmniOutlaw banner

This is the #OmniOutlaw graphic banner I created when the the first #OmniTen were announced.

My deep seated #OmniEnvy began in early 2012 when Columbia Sportswear launched the first #OmniTen campaign. Ten Social Media influencers in the outdoor community were selected to participate in a 6 month experiment with Columbia. Some of them I already followed on Social Media channels, the others I quickly followed so I could watch this new #OmniTen thing unfold. So began my #OmniObsession and the exercise of following, friending, stalking and generally creeping out the original #OmniTen…and so began the #OmniOutlaws.

I was not alone, the #OmniOutlaws grew into a small group of less-than-influential individuals on Twitter. The one thing that brought us together was a fondness for Columbia Gear and an acute case of #OmniEnvy. Columbia makes some great gear and it was fun to watch and interact with Columbia and their #OmniTen as they featured new gear and posted about their adventures. I have had the opportunity to meet and create friendships with most of the original #OmniTen and they are a great group of people.

Then the Winter #OmniTen were chosen. Once Columbia proved that they would be choosing a new set of ten for each season, envy turned to hope. It now looked like there may be a chance in the distant future for an #OmniOutlaw to turn #OmniTen.

Well it happened! Columbia has made my year by inviting me to the 2013 Spring season of #OmniTen! I’m still stalking the #OmniTen, it’s just not as creepy because I’m one of them. It is now time to lower the #OmniOutlaw flag and point my ship toward a new adventure proudly flying the #OmniTen colors.

There’s still a few people that haven’t checked in yet, but if you’d like to join me in following the adventures of the new 2013 #OmniTen I’ve provided links to their Twitter profiles below.  This is an awesome opportunity and I intend to make the most of it.  Columbia has promised it will be amazing!

#omniten invitation box

My #OmniTen invitation box…

Columbia #OmniTen Spring 2013

David (me!)
Adam
Aleya
Anne
Tori
Justin
Eric
Julie

more to follow!

You should also be following Columbia Sportswear on Twitter and the #Omniten hashtag.

A Stranger in Zion…

The late afternoon light was stretched low over the horizon casting long shadows in Zion National Park.  I had unpacked my gear from the dusty truck in Watchman Campground and quickly set up my home for the weekend next to another small tent quietly occupying the same campsite under a large cottonwood.  I didn’t know much about my mysterious campmate yet.  Less than an hour earlier, I had received a single text message – all set in F4.  They have a parking permit for you as you enter watchman campground.  If I’m not in camp, I’m off exploring.  Sounds like we’d get along just fine.

View of Watchman from the Campground in Zion National Park

The National Parks and Monuments of Utah have always called to me, especially Zion National Park.  I don’t normally make a huge effort to visit the National Parks, preferring instead to explore Wilderness Areas where I can find quiet and solitude.  There are exceptions.  When my dad passed away in 2005 we were in the planning stages of several trips together.  We were on the wait-list for a private trip down the Colorado River, we were just starting to plan a trip through Yosemite along portions of the John Muir Trail and we were talking about touring the Utah Parks of Zion, Bryce, Arches and Canyonlands.

In Fall of 2007 I was able to raft the Colorado through Grand Canyon on a private boat trip with several of my dad’s closest river friends.  This Summer I’ll finally be hiking most of the John Muir Trail through Yosemite with a small group of backpackers.  And for years I had been patiently looking for opportunities to visit Arches or Zion…when I received this message on twitter:

The timing seemed to fit perfectly into my jigsaw puzzle of a travel calendar.  I managed to scrounge up some petty cash for fuel, take the weekend off and drive 7 hours across Arizona and Utah to meet up with a fellow adventure seeker after nothing more than a handful of Twitter messages.  Twitter has been funny that way, especially when it comes to the outdoor community.  I see it happen all the time with messages like, “Anyone up for climbing near SLC this weekend?” or “I want to do Humphrey’s next time in Flag.  Who’s in?”  Social Media allows us to connect with like-minded people for outdoor adventures that just wouldn’t be as fun (or safe) alone.

This time it was Minnesota native David Wherry, hell bent on making the most out of his first whirlwind trip to Zion National Park in the shortest time possible.  David would have one day, sun-up to sun-down, to doggedly chase down as much adventure and general badassery (yes, it’s a word) as law would allow…and he was looking for a partner to help him run it down.

As I organized my gear at Workman Campground I knew we were staring down the barrel of a long sunrise-to-sunset day of steep, sweat-stained canyon hiking.  So when Dave came strolling into camp after a casual 7 mile trail run, I knew he’d be the guy pushing the pace the next day.

That night we sat around the campfire and discussed our strategy for the next day.  We didn’t know each other before that night but we both seemed very much on the same page about our agenda.  We listed out our priorities starting with Angel’s Landing at sunrise and worked our way from there with every intention of hungrily devouring as much of this amazing park as we could stomach before sunset.  We would not be content to shuffle along with cattle-like tourists.  We would push hard, move fast and end every trail with an eager and emphatic “What’s next!?”

David turned out to be a great trail companion and bad-ass adventure partner.  Hopefully his work continues to land him in parts out west so we can pull off another epic slam-dunk in another amazing location.  The sooner the better…

The Epic Day in Zion National Park…

Angel's Landing at Zion National Park

Echo Canyon at Zion National Park

Observation Point at Zion National Park

The Narrows at Zion National Park

 

To see more of my images from Zion National Park visit my gallery.